Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Nevada vs. Southern Mississippi

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Sheraton Hawaii Bowl 

Nevada vs. Southern Mississippi

3:00 p.m. Eastern, December 24, 2011

TheSpread.com Point Spread: Southern Mississippi -6

Nevada: The Wolf Pack has struggled this season in close games after losing back-to-back games by 4 points to Louisiana Tech and Utah State. The X factor for them will be the playing ability of their WAC Freshman of the Year quarterback, Cody Fajardo. Fajardo injured his ankle in the Nov. 26 loss to Utah State and hasn’t played at 100% since. Fajardo had 6 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns this season for The Pack so their offense will depend on the strength of his ankle.

Offensively, Nevada may have the upper hand but defense could be their kryptonite. Nevada currently ranks lower than 50th in nearly every significant defensive category. The area where they most notable underperform is getting to the quarterback.  The line of scrimmage seems to be a virtual brick wall for the Pack’s defense. They rank 66th in sacks and 97th in tackles for a loss. They also give up an average of 226 yards per game through the air. If the Golden Eagles can find a way to exploit the Pack’s defensive struggles it won’t take long for them to blow this game wide open.

Southern Miss: This Golden Eagles team will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove after their head coach Larry Fedora accepted the job at North Carolina. Despite the fact that he is leaving, Fedora will still coach the team tomorrow night in hopes of making school history. In over 100 years of Southern Miss. football, no team has ever won 12 games in a season. A win over the Wolf Pack would give the 11-2 Golden Eagles their historic 12th win. In order to pull off the win, quarterback Austin Davis will have to be able to finish drives and lead a fast-paced offense for 60 minutes, which are two things the team has struggled to do.

If there was an award for most improved defense, Southern Miss. would be in the running. Last season the team gave up an average of 30 points per game. This season they are only giving up around 17 points per game. The defense is led up front by the duo of Cordarro Law and Jamie Collins. They finished the regular season in the Top 10 in three categories – passing efficiency defense, redzone defense and interceptions. The etched their own place in FBS history by returning 8 interceptions for touchdowns this season. The ability to force turnovers could definitely become an advantage against the young offense of the Wolf Pack.